Posts Tagged ‘travel’

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Ants, Honey, and Human Dependency

May 31, 2016

There is a tree in Nicaragua that is not the tallest tree. It is not the most beautiful tree. It is not a sweet smelling tree. And yet, it is a powerful tree; one that offers wisdom, as all plants do, if one is willing to listen.

Like miniature swords, long spiky thorns poke from the branches of the tree, swearing off enemies. They do their job well. The barbs are sharp and painful, and they hurt. They are also full of honey. Because of the honey, the tree is covered with ants, which bury in the thorns to feed on sweet nectar. In return, the ants pee (ecosystems at their most sophisticated are also often at their most basic) on the tree, offering much-needed liquid, fuel to carry itself through a long dry season. The tree gives food; the ant gives drink.

Magic.

But sadly, perhaps terrifyingly, enchanting global ecosystems are in danger, becoming bewitched. Until I ventured to Central America, I had no idea jungles turn brown. They do. They remind me of Ohio in November, not the most stunning time of the year. The tropical trees drop their leaves, leaving barren branches and matted, crunched-up grasses below. In a perfect world, the rains begin in May, and within a few short weeks, the landscape becomes lush. However, because of global warming, the six-month rainy season has been shortened; hurting crops, farmers, plants, and animals.

But why should we care? We have nothing to worry about: we can buy our bananas at Safeway.

With an increasingly long dry season (I’m sure the same could be said for an extended rainy season), ecosystems all over the world are in danger. John Muir once said, “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.” ‘Tis true: we are responsible for the future. Will we act the fool? Turn our heads? Or will we come to the realization that although we can buy bananas at Safeway, we share one planet?

Like it or not, we depend on a healthy structured environment, and our world is contingent on a balanced system. Ants and the thorny tree rely on each other to survive. Not only is it a fine balance, but it is also their relationship that makes it work. Many people talk about the need for relationships: with God, families, peers, and partners. And I agree: relationships are essential components to a healthy, vibrant life. I would also add that a strong and equal relationship with our environment is essential.

We can’t take without offering back.IMG_9157

The thorn tree might not be the most beautiful or popular tree in the jungle, but it knows it can’t stand alone. It survives by sharing its nectar with ants. Their relationship is key to their survival. Likewise, our survival as humans is dependent on our relationship with the environment, not just on ‘earth day’ but on all days.

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Books in Nica

May 17, 2016

Choosing a book, or many books, to read on vacation can be challenging. Will I be in the mood for a mindless beach read? Will I want to learn something and discover personal growth? Should the book be work related? Completely literary? In the end, I almost always choose a bit of everything. In my line of work, reading is as important as writing.

In April, my family traveled to Nicaragua for two weeks. We had lots of time on planes, in the airport, on the beach, waiting at restaurants, siesta-ing, and even during the middle of the night when temperatures hovered near 90 with no air-conditioning. Thank God for e-readers!

Lots of people ask me for reading suggestions, so I’ve listed what I read in Nicaragua. However, I think it’s important to prepare for a trip and read a related book or two before arrival. I began with The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War by Gioconda Belli, and while on the plane I devoured a collection of short stories set in Panama: Come Together, Fall Apart, by Cristina Henriquez.

This next selection was chosen because I wanted to read adult literary fiction. I picked A 100 Foot Journey by Richard Morais because it’s set in three different countries. Because I was traveling to a foreign land, I could appreciate the nuances that come with cross-cultural living. Next, I read My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, which is new and on many best seller lists. I love Elizabeth Strout, and the book did not disappoint. I also love Chris Bohjalian’s and was surprised to find Trans-Sister Radio, a book of his that I hadn’t yet read. Given the debate about gender-neutral bathrooms, it’s a book that everyone should read RIGHT NOW.

By reading, 250 Things you Should Know about Writing by Chuck Wendig, I did a little work, right? And because reading middle grade and young adult is also part of my job, I read I will Save You: Matt de la Pena, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky: Heidi Durrow, and This is Where it Ends; Marieke Nijkamp, but they were all so good that I can’t call it work.

Personal growth and well-being are always part of my routine, and I read parts and pieces of these four books: Awakening the Energy Body: Kenneth Smith, Defy Gravity: Caroline Myss, Courageous Dreaming: Alberto Villoldo, and Dark Nights of the Soul: Thomas Moore.

Did I have a favorite? Nope. Each served their purpose for different reasons, and I enjoyed them all. Developing a selection of books to read takes a bit of planning, but it’s well worth it.

We also took phones away from our kids, and they balked as only teenagers can. But guess what? They read—a couple of books each! Parents shouldn’t be afraid to pull technology from their children. Of course, kids will complain; that’s their job. No one said parenting was easy. But here’s the upshot: reading improves writing skills ten-fold, triggers receptors in the brain, and offers new worlds, an escape, a welcome respite from an overly stimulated world. Parents can’t mandate books like teachers can, but if kids don’t have an alternative; they’ll read. And odds are? They’ll like it.

Happy reading on your next vacation! Summer anyone?

 

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Jungle Juice and Sensory Awareness

May 2, 2016

I recently returned from an adventurous trip to Nicaragua. It inspired. My next few blogs will no doubt be related to my musings about this particular part of the world. Like all journeys, my time in Central America was filled with highs and lows, offering up lessons and tales to be told.

Disclaimer: Nicaragua was not high on my list of places to see. If I’d won the lottery and could have traveled anywhere, I’d have flown to the South Pacific, headed back to Italy, or gone to see my adopted family in Tunisia. But I found round-trip tickets to Managua for $300, which, in a way, was like winning the lottery. Plus, two of my three kids spoke Spanish, and Central America was high on their list. We had friends who’d been to Nica and loved it. We’d even met a great Nicaraguan guy—on a hut trip of all places. He promised to show us a good time. Clearly, the stars were aligned, and Nicaragua was where we needed to go. It was a done deal.

However, because Nica wasn’t top on my list, I didn’t think much about it. I read one book. I watched an Anthony Bourdain episode. I talked to a few people who’d been, but I had no expectations for the trip. Until I got there and realized I did.

When I first saw the dormant jungle; brown, twisted, and void of lush beauty;

I cried. After living through a winter of white, my hope was to see green. Breathe green. Live green. But the jungle wasn’t yet awake, and with the exception of palm trees and bougainvillea, the colors had vaporized.

In order to push through my disappointment, I honed in on other ways to explore the country and its environment. In doing so, I discovered intoxicating beauty not found with sight, and I used my other senses instead.

The 95-degree Nicaraguan heat saturated my body, offering a longed-for respite from the Colorado cold. I let it sink into my skin; at times enjoying it, at others, not so much. The excessive temperatures also taught me to welcome the wind, which can’t be seen. First, I’d hear it. The wind whistled and rustled through the canopy overhead and then swept over me like a soft wash, cleansing my scorched skin. I taught myself to listen to the breeze, anticipating the relief it would bring.

I also heard birds—beautiful birds greeting the morning and closing the day. They became my clock. I heard people pounding nails, others selling wares. I listened to new music and learned the Nicaraguan beat. The sounds were foreign, exotic, and welcoming.

The fragrances in Central America were equally exotic. Smoke from burning trash and wood was not so pleasant, but others smells delighted my entire being. Fried coconut oil spilled through the streets as women grilled chicken, plantains, and fried fish. Spices filled the air, making my mouth water. The taste of turmeric and onion and red peppers exploded when I ate. Freshly roasted coffee greeted my morning, and pure honey tasted exceptionally good. After eating tiny, tangy bananas, mangos, papayas and pineapples, the fruit juices dripped across my fingertips, sweet and sour flavors lingered behind my tongue.

I didn’t see my self-imagined jungle, but as with any unmet expectations, there were lessons to be learned, experiences to be found. There is more to the world than sight. Would I have preferred to see the jungle its green glory? Of course. But in its place, I re-awakened my underused senses, rousing both body and soul and offering me the opportunity to rejuvenate, experience, and truly explore. Isn’t that what a journey is all about? The challenge now, as with all returns, is to keep the lesson alive.

Given that I still see snow outside my window, I’m more than happy to practice non-seeing. But it’s easy to forget to breathe deeply, to take time to feel the air, smell the sweetness in the coffee shop, or to taste every single bite of a hurried breakfast. But slowing down and taking time to taste and smell and feel and truly listen enhances our lives. I teach my writing students to use senses in their writing. Providing a variety of details is important to the depth of a description. And so it is with life. Seeing is powerful. Beautiful. But it’s not all there is.

 

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Flight to Spain

July 8, 2014

This morning I watched my daughter’s plane taxi from the gate, bound for Spain. Like a bad Julia Robert’s movie, I bawled my eyes out. Ellie’s been gone before, but today felt different, more painful. Maybe it was because Spain is so far from Colorado. Perhaps it was because she’ll be gone all summer. Maybe it was because I have a crazy imagination that plays dirty tricks on me throughout the night. And perhaps, most likely of all, the pain was all mine, simply having a difficult time saying good-bye.

 

Ellie will be 17 next month. She’s ready to find her way. And yet, it’s hard to let go.

 

As I drove home, exhausted and red-eyed, I thought about my writing. The process of my work, putting pen to paper, has always helped me understand my life and vice versa. Recalling my choked good-bye made me remember that letting go is part of the work, both in life and in my writing.

 

Advanced writers craft pages upon pages, only to delete them and begin again. It’s never easy. We love our words. We love our babies. But for the health of the manuscript and the health of our children, it’s sometimes best to say good-bye.

 

No doubt that I’ll get teary again this summer as I think about Ellie, but I’ll have tools to help me cope. I’ll call, I’ll email, I’ll text. And before I know it, she’ll be back. By now I’ve got a tool kit for my writing to help me edit—I’ll scratch, I’ll copy, I’ll delete. And before I know it, they’ll be a chapter.

 

It’s okay to be sad. But we need to let go, words and kids included.

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Travel Journals

March 25, 2013

In two weeks my husband and I are taking our two teens and one tween to Asia. We’ve been planning the trip for some time. We plan to live with my college roommate and her family in Hong Kong, then travel on to Vietnam and Cambodia. We’ve made lists, gotten shots, and figured out foreign currency. We’ve packed pills, books, and cards for the grueling flight. What we’re not doing? Bringing a computer or allowing the kids to bring their devices. I sincerely hope they don’t revolt.

Instead, we are buying them each a journal­­­—the old fashioned kind with real paper. I might even let them pick out a special pen. Of course, I could be asking for complete mutiny.

When I travelled as a kid, my mom wrote travel diaries, recounting what we did every day. I’ve written journals describing scenes, smells, and sometimes, my feelings. There is something to learn by putting pen to paper and recounting what you see. I hope that by bringing travel journals, our kids will learn to be better observers. Will they notice what people eat on the street? Will they notice people living on the street? Will they hear mosquitos buzz in their ear and smell exotic spices? I don’t know. But I know that by limiting technology for a few weeks will help them in some way, even if it’s how to plot a rebellion.

Writers are observers. What do you notice?

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Who’s knockin’ at my Door?

March 1, 2010

Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.

-Boris Pasternak

A good friend from long ago happened on my doorstep not long ago. In our early twenties we worked together, travelled together, and shared many good times.

Before Steph arrived with her twin boys and her parents, I told my kids a few things about her. She had the ability to make even the dullest job fun. When we travelled, there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t try, and together we explored most of Europe and North Africa. Over dinner, Steph recounted those stories to my kids, and slipped into accents that had them in hysterics.

Once Steph told me that she was the kind of kid who opened all her presents before Christmas, then rewrapped them so her parents would still think she was surprised. As a writer, I used that story in a character sketch. But when I recounted this piece of trivia to my kids, they were baffled…who would want to ruin a surprise? Why did it matter, then, if she rewrapped the gifts? It wouldn’t be a true surprise at all.

When I think of surprise, I think of Steph. She might have opened her gifts before she was supposed to, but her entire personality epitomizes surprise. Spending time with a friend like Steph, opens the door to unexpected adventure. Seeing her reminded me to add more to my own life. And while I don’t get to see her much anymore, a surprise knock on the door was the greatest surprise of my week.

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Awareness in the Air

June 27, 2009

Expect this to be a day of Healing, Awareness, Harmony, and Gentle Order.

-Naomi Rose

Not this day. Where’s the Healing? Awareness? Harmony? Ha! Definitely no Gentle Order on this travel day.

It began with no running water and yes, I had to fly. On an airplane. Although believe me, I would have preferred to fly on the wings of some magical dragon.

Travel days start early in the great white north. Two things are necessary at 4:30 a.m., a shower and a cup of coffee. I got neither.

Instead, I put a baseball cap on my fine looking hair, piled three kids into the car, and drove. Not so far. Within fifteen miles, my youngest threw-up. We arrived at the airport, changed clothes, and found coffee. Until someone ran into me and spilled it all over my jacket. At least coffee smells better than throw-up. Maybe that was my healing harmony.

Maybe not. My husband said good-bye at security check, and my two-year-old performed a stellar tantrum. She cried so hard that snot slid down her nose and onto my shoulder. It didn’t help that I had to send her doll through an x-ray machine. Ever try to remove a screaming toddler’s shoes in front of a hundred strangers ready to call you a bad mom if you raise your voice? So okay, maybe my day did have some awareness.

By now, we were late, so we ran. I hauled three kids, two pink backpacks, and a suitcase of my own down the corridor as fast as I could. You know that feeling you get when you wonder, gee, will I see someone I know travelling? I prayed NOT to have that happen. Apparently, it was not a day for prayers. A voice from aisle ten said, “Hi Carrie”. It was hard to find a good response with coffee, vomit, and sweat settling on my skin. I bit my tongue and said hi with as much gentle order as I could muster.

I won’t bore you with the details on the plane. If you have kids, you know what flying’s like and if you don’t, you’ve probably had to sit near kids. You know too. Fun, fun.

We arrived in Detroit, and no one at baggage claim came with a cart and a hand out. Too bad. I would have paid big bucks for help. How do moms travel with strollers, car seats, suitcases and exhausted kids? I don’t remember.

After waiting in a long line with whiney kids, we smashed into a compact rental car and headed for McDonalds. Nothing like a McShake to improve the day, until of course, a truck swerves into another truck. Brakes slammed, and I skidded off the road. Safely, thankfully. However, the backpacks behind my kids’ heads slid onto their heads and caused them to spill all the milkshakes and food down their fronts. More tears.

We arrived an hour later at our friend’s house. We did not give them hugs. Instead, I asked for a bar of soap, four towels, and marched us directly into the shower. Fortunately, there was running water at their house.

And, there it was. I finally found healing, awareness, harmony, and gentle order. In the shower. Thank the good Lord my kids are older. I don’t think I need to find any more awareness in the air.

Happy summer travels!